A late night fire destroyed the sanctuary at a historic 152-year-old Falls County Church. On Friday, fire marshals were on scene investigating the cause of the fire.
Officials said the fire broke out at Mooreville United Methodist Church around 10:30 p.m. Within minutes of the fire breaking out, it was clear to officials the sanctuary would not survive.
In all, 9 fire departments from miles around helped fight this fire. On Friday morning, crews were still dousing the embers to make sure the flames don't rekindle.
The community sits along Highway 7 in between Chilton and Bruceville Eddy.
The church traces its start all the way back to 1866, with a group of Methodists who gathered, in local farmhouses to worship. The church had completed its first church structure by 1874 and held services there until 1882 when the congregation built its second sanctuary at the current site.
The historic church congregation played an important role in the community's religious history.
It has been a Texas Historic Landmark since 1992.
Ann Phelps has been going to the church for 80 years and is known as the historian of the church.
“The people who have been part of this church or who lived in this area, always feel ties to Mooreville,” said Phelps.
Her family helped found the church in 1967 said she was saddened to hear about the fire.
“I was shocked and devastated just the very idea of losing our church. Our building that was so old and meant so much to so many,” said Phelps.
She will miss the pews, stained glass windows, paintings and other pieces of the church that were destroyed by the fire.
“So many things that will never be replaced. We have nothing but memories,” said Phelps.
Over 152 years after its founding, the sight of the church in flames left members and even the church pastor in shock.
"I don't know. I'm still in just as much shock as you are and we're still trying to think about next steps," said church pastor Dennis Rejeck.
Firefighters believe the flames started somewhere on the west side of the building and spread quickly.
Its location in a rural area posed a problem, as firefighters tried to get enough water to the site.
Several tanker trucks provided a solution to their problem, but the fire had too much of a head start.
"When we arrived, we did have fire coming through the roof," said Rodney Hall, Chilton Fire Chief.
He added responding to this call was emotional.
“This is a big part of the history of Falls County, especially for this community. To see all your history go up in flames, it’s heartbreaking,” said Hall.
With the sanctuary in flames, fire crews set out to control the fire as best as they could, and protect other buildings on the property.
"That was our main goal," said Hall. "We knew the sanctuary, the church at that point was going to be a total loss. We wanted to make sure the fellowship hall, that we didn't lose it."
More than an hour later, they'd accomplished that goal. Giving members of this church a place to keep worshiping and serving this community as members plan their recovery.
Now, church leaders want their 200 members to remember that they vow to go on, in service to the Lord and this community.
Rejcek said nothing will stop his congregation from providing the comfort, support and spiritual nourishment they give to this community, the meals-on-wheels, the driving classes, and the other outreach programs that help people.
"[It's] a tremendous loss, but it's a building," said Rejeck. "The church is the church. People are the church, not the building. We will rebuild."
On Friday, parishioners gathered at the Fellowship Hall, which remains standing.
“This is going to be the core that gets us back, hold us together,” said Phelps.
Meanwhile, State Marshal’s Office investigators were outside the church investigating the origin and cause of the fire. They collected samples, which will be tested at a lab for the presence of accelerants.
The investigation, which willl reveal if the fire was accidental, intentional or undetermined.
The church is now collecting donations to help them recover after the fire.
If anyone would like to donate there is an account set up:
Mooreville United Methodist Church Fire Relief Fund
Account at all Bancorp South Banks
P.O. Box 808
Marlin, TX 76661
Donations can also be made at any Bancorp South location.
Sunday's service will take place at the Fellowship Hall, which is the only building that remains standing.
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